Bubble watch: Bramlett aims to complete comeback season with TOUR return

Joseph Bramlett comments about being on The 25 bubble
Prior to the Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper, Joseph Bramlett talks about the mindset of being on The 25 bubble with four events remaining in the Web.com Tour Regular Season.

As the Web.com Tour navigates nine consecutive tournament weeks to conclude the Regular Season, several players opt to take off-weeks here and there, to conserve energy as they make late-season pushes for spots in The 25 and resultant PGA TOUR cards.

It’s a combination of travel, range work, learning new courses, learning new cities. A week off can freshen the body and mind for what’s to come.

Joseph Bramlett’s attitude is a bit different, though. The Stanford alum spent the majority of five years away from competitive golf, battling severe back pain and weighing the pros and cons of potentially career-ending surgery.

After years of investigation, a stability-centric swing change has allowed Bramlett’s back to withstand the rigors of a Tour season. The 30-year-old is navigating his first full schedule since 2012, and his game is peaking in the summer heat, with five consecutive top-16 finishes leading into this week’s Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper.

The California native has been a picture of consistency this season, with 14 made cuts in 15 starts, moving to No. 21 on the money list as he strives to put a bow on his comeback story.

The energy is fresh, and it’s real.

“I’m not going to say I’m not tired, and that there aren’t days where I’m fatigued, but mentally I’m really excited to be playing,” Bramlett said Tuesday at Highland Springs CC. “I think the stretch that I’ve been out has really refreshed me, and it has lit quite a fire under me, to try to get back out there (to the PGA TOUR).

“I’m very excited, and I don’t feel like I need a break.”

The former Stanford standout earned his PGA TOUR card right out of college, via the 2010 PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament, but finished No. 199 on in the 2011 FedExCup standings to lose his card.

It’s unlikely he would have, or could have, anticipated the road he would face in chasing a TOUR return.

After a solid 2012 Web.com Tour campaign (No. 28 on the money list), Bramlett’s world changed at the 2013 Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank. While working through a standard range session, his back went out, leading to pain so severe that he was relegated to lying on his back for hours at a time.

Bramlett traversed across the United States, visiting more than a dozen surgeons in search of an answer, with some telling him that his career might be over. Surgery could help him live pain-free, day-to-day, but could significantly reduce his capabilities of competing at the highest level.

A combination of targeted exercising and swing changes kept the pain at bay and allowed him to attempt a Web.com Tour return in 2016. He played three events, but the pain got progressively worse, and he was forced to step away once again.

A second swing rebuild, though, has perhaps done the trick. Bramlett focused on sound footwork and stable hips to take the stress off his lower back. He continued to weigh the pros and cons of surgery, but friends continued to talk him out of it, encouraging him to “stay the course.”

The course has led to consistent play in 2018, where his body has held up for the majority of the season. Several players choose to take off-weeks to conserve energy, but Bramlett is making his sixth consecutive start this week in the Ozarks.

“My body has been able to hold up,” Bramlett said. “I’m talking with my physical therapist every night on the phone, and my coach is out here this week trying to make sure that we keep things set and solid.

“I think I’m going to be able to last through the end of the season, and I’m fired up to be playing right now.”

Players who finish inside the top 25 on the Regular Season money list (The 25) will secure PGA TOUR membership for the 2018-19 season, and will have an opportunity to improve their spot on the season-long money list via the Web.com Tour Finals.

A look at how The 25 bubble shapes up entering the Price Cutter Charity Championship ...

Rank Player Money Total
21 Joseph Bramlett $152,493
22 Adam Long $150,076
23 Nelson Ledesma $142,551
24 Martin Trainer $140,910
25 Michael Arnaud  $139,001
26 Kevin Dougherty $137,291
27 Taylor Moore $135,949
28 Eric Axley $135,269
29 Kyle Jones $132,859
30 Erik Barnes $130,434

As Bramlett thinks back to his “low point” in March 2017, when he considered experimental surgery before those around him talked him out of it, the opportunity to chase a spot in The 25 is one to embrace.

He says he’s been knocking off rust throughout the season, and justifiably so, as he made only three starts in a 55-month period between July 2013 and February 2018, where he placed T27 at the Panama Championship as he began his second comeback effort.

It would appear that the rust is mostly off. In Bramlett’s last 10 starts, he has only twice finished outside the top 16. He ranks third on Tour in birdie average, fourth in greens in regulation and fourth in total driving.

His game is in one of the best spots it has ever been. With $152,493 in season-to-date earnings, though, he knows the mission is not yet complete.

Bramlett’s succinct plan as he strives to secure his place in The 25 over the next four events? Chase trophies, and the results will take care of themselves.

“If I were to stop playing right now, I wouldn’t get my TOUR card,” Bramlett said. “I wouldn’t make enough. I have to keep going. It’s great being No. 21 on the money list, but I still haven’t won a tournament this year … I haven’t even finished in the top three.

“I feel like I’ve had a consistent year; I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve made with my game, and I lot of my stats are grossly improved from when I last played out here.

“I want to win, and I haven’t won. I know if I do that, everything else is going to be in really good shape."

Bramlett is back to speaking in golf terms, rather than medical terms. And it feels good.

Players who finish inside the top 75 on the Regular Season money list gain entry into the Web.com Tour Finals, with a chance at a PGA TOUR card via The Finals 25, and secure Web.com Tour status for 2019. 

A look at how the top-75 bubble projects entering the Price Cutter Charity Championship ...

Rank Player Money Total
71 Brandon Matthews $58,460
72 Oscar Fraustro $57,588
73 Brandon Hagy $56,740
74 Mark Blakefield $55,889
75 Max Homa $55,245
76 Kyle Reifers $54,508
77 Luke Guthrie $53,926
78 Jason Gore $53,483
79 Chris Baker $51,873
80 Max Rottluff $51,603


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